My solution to Brexit? A united Ireland followed by a hokey cokey Irexit...

Friday 05 January 2018, 12am

By Brian Forbes

TODAY Brexit remains the great known unknown. We know that something will happen but we really have no clear idea exactly how all things Brexit might materialise over the coming months and years.

There’s a lot of robust discussion North and South about the free movement of people, protection of public services, the future economy and, of course, the real clincher for many people, “Will there be a hard border, a soft border or – better still – no border at all?”

Regardless of your personal views on Brexit, it is becoming increasingly clear that we are all victims of a vision far beyond our control. The lack of leadership from the UK government and the increasing ineptitude of British Ministers on Brexit is bordering on farce at this stage.

The UK Brexiteers are blaming everyone but themselves for the mess of their own making. Our own political leaderships, North and South, are equally as uncertain and appear to be behaving like rabbits caught cold in the headlights of a steaming locomotive called Brexit.

The notion of a return to a customs border similar to the one I grew up with in the West Tyrone border town of Strabane is becoming spine chillingly close to a growing reality. Any reinstatement of a customs border would pose a major challenge to how we go about our daily lives on this little island.

I, like thousands of other people traverse freely between North and South regularly and without hindrance. I recall back in the dark, auld days of customs checkpoints, road barriers and British army checkpoints, having to negotiate two different forms of invasive searches going in both directions.

The added fear to all of this is the potential for a Brexit and a border of any nature between North and South to derail the Peace Process that has benefited so many of us on this island.

10th April 1998 was a historic day in the shared history of our people – in that the Good Friday Agreement provided an Ireland for my own children to grow up non-sectarian and, crucially, without the direct fear of bombs and bullets that so many children of Ireland were subjected to as normal life on our battered and divided land.

Add to this mix the growing inequality and the rampant, uncontrolled rise of the precariat in Ireland which is clearly far from “the unfettered control of Irish destinies” which the men and women of the 1916 Rising fought for and some died to achieve.

Tender mercies

That independent and sovereign Irish Republic is as far away from the ideals of those brave revolutionaries than at any stage in the past 100 years. It was squandered within a few  years of the 1916 Rising on the altar of a newly-created, church-aligned state and latterly to the excesses of a neo-liberal capitalism that seeks to abandon Irish citizens and society to the tender mercies of big business and global capital.

The political capital being derived out of those now suddenly finding themselves pro-EU is quite staggering. Many political commentators and parties who fought hard against the past excesses of the EU are now firmly in the EU camp, claiming that the British have ‘lost the run of themselves’ and that the EU, while not perfect, is the ‘only real game in town’. Utter poppycock!

I agree with those who say the UK outside the Eurozone could precipitate a decimation of, and an attempt at dismantling, the NHS which would invariably lead to a domino effect involving the privatisation of public services and less scrutiny over how multi-nationals do their business. Inevitably, this will lead to an ever increasing race to the bottom on jobs, trade and living standards. But isn’t that already what the EU have planned for small countries such as Ireland through collective trade agreements?       

Despite a hardline stance publicly adopted on a “hard border” by An Taoiseach, the Irish State is totally unprepared for the increasing likelihood of the UK crashing out of the EU on March 29th 2019.

Ireland has an unsustainable business model already offering low corporate tax rates and legal tax avoidance schemes to foreign investors. The fact that the EU is forcing Apple to pay €13 billion to the Irish Government in taxes, despite our government stating that they don’t want nor need it, is a clear indicator that this corporate business model is not sustainable for very much longer.

Tax haven

Our legislators and their corporate friends love our wee tax haven status and, with the UK out of the EU, it will weaken Ireland’s argument against the EU-imposed tax harmonisation by losing a close ally in that regard.

If Ireland decides to fight Brussels in a bid to stop the harmonisation of the corporate tax base, it will inevitably lose out. Just imagine what we could do with an extra €13 billion plus all the other taxes owed to us by multinationals who have been milking the recession for all its glorious worth in Ireland for far too long?

We could build hospitals, schools, transport infrastructure, have a free national health service, vastly increase public housing provision, boost public services, pay people a living wage, fix precarious working practices and maybe even fix a pothole or two up in the wilds of  Donegal without having to sell our vote to get it done.

So, indulge me please – what if Ireland decided to throw its collective hat into the ring with its near neighbour the UK and abdicate from the EU? Would an Irexit (an Irish Brexit) be such a doomsday scenario if our closest and biggest trading partner decides to go it alone? Leaving the EU would mean the Irish state would not be bound by devilish collective trade agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) – which is a clear and present danger to Irish democracy, jobs and pretty much everything that stands for decency in our working lives today. TTIP undermines corporate transparency and allows multinationals to challenge and usurp Irish law with its provisions for common regulatory zones and anti-democratic disputes procedures.

While I’m being provocative, it should also be noted that Ireland, since 2014, is a net contributor to the EU Budget, paying in €1.69 billion and receiving €1.52 billion. Effectively what this means is that any EU money coming into Ireland under funding arrangements such as cohesion funds and common agricultural policy, to name two, is basically Irish taxpayers’ money being recycled through Brussels and back into Ireland again.

So the public fallacy that the EU is a benevolent cash cow and that we would all lose out financially if Ireland left the EU is simply not true. In fact, an Ireland free from the restraining fiscal shackles imposed by the EU would have complete control over where funding is applied and may even be able to afford increased funding freed from the overseeing eyes of Brussel bureaucrats.      

Of course, there are so many more unknowns surrounding the consequences for Ireland, North and South, should the UK leave the EU. However, it is worth considering Irish public opinion could very well be set against the views of our politicians according to that bastion of balanced reporting the Irish Daily Mail.

On October 31, 2016, The Mail published a poll which showed that four in 10 Irish people would choose open borders and free trade with the UK over membership of the EU. Whatever happens with Brexit, it is clear that if and when the UK leaves the EU, then the economic and societal relationship between Ireland and the UK will fundamentally change. In fact, it’s a complete game changer for the entire failing project of Team Europe.

Hari Kari

So how might Ireland conduct its own Irexit, I hear you ask? That indeed is a fine question my friends. The 1937 referendum that adopted the Irish Constitution is not in itself a barrier to Ireland leaving the Eurozone. This can be done by the Irish government without a referendum. If our political leaders decided on foot of the UK jumping ship that we’d conduct our own Hari Kari Irexit version of Brexit, then it would depend on the reasoning and logic for doing so that would determine my position on it as a concept.

For example, if it was being done to reclaim Irish sovereignty and to apply democratic principles in line with the January 21, 1919 Democratic Programme of “liberty, equality and justice for all” then count me in, brothers and sisters.

However, I can never imagine the Thatcherite, neo-liberal poster boys and girls of our Civil War parties having the foresight and egalitarian nature of our forefathers, so it’d be more likely that any Irexit led by current political parties would more be an even deeper “love-in” with the corporate entities of austerity and the perpetrators of the ongoing ravaging global class war.

So Marx’s prediction 150 years ago that capitalism would lead to greater concentration of wealth, in particular, the means of production and capital, has proven conclusively to be correct. Marx’s view that poverty and inequality of income and wealth would not improve under capitalism, neoliberal or otherwise was right on the money, if you’ll pardon the pun.

The Brexiteers’ campaign to abandon the EU is irrational at best. It’s an emotional kneejerk in pursuit of an unattainable dream of ‘Making Britain Great Again’. It’s a bit like the unachievable fantasy of making America great again because neither were that great to begin with.

We are now moving into the period of the great known unknown that will see the UK attempt to “persuade” Ireland to see things from their perspective. The next EU summit in mid-December sees the UK present its proposals for dealing with the Irish border, EU citizens’ rights and their divorce bill from the EU. The options are limited in terms of avoiding a hard border – for example, the North might become a semi-detached part of the UK similar to the Isle of Man or the UK might stay within the Single Market and the common customs area. Both options, while unlikely, would be a bitter pill to swallow for the gung-ho Brexiteers.

My simple solution to the quandary that surrounds us all with Brexit is a somewhat more straightforward and uncomplicated resolution. A united Ireland. A united Ireland along the lines envisaged by the revolutionaries 100 years ago who saw a very different Ireland to the Ireland of today. An egalitarian and inclusive all-island Republic built on those proud socialist principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. 

Custom unions require the surrender of sovereignty; otherwise, why would they need to exist in the first place? Ireland has long passed its sovereignty over to Brussels so maybe it’s time we reclaimed a bit of it back and began to build a lasting legacy for future generations.

One that’s not built on subservience and austerity but one we all can be proud to hand over to future generations whether that’s inside the EU tent looking out or outside the EU tent looking in.

A hokey cokey Irexit, if you will, based on the great known unknown collective phrase of the Brexiteers, “Where the f**k do we go from here?”  

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